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THIS WEEK AT WAR
Week's War-Related Events Reviewed
Aired May 19, 2007 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
TOM FOREMAN, CNN ANCHOR, THIS WEEK AT WAR: A provincial governor opening a health clinic. Two men talking in the middle of the street. Normal things in most places but this is al Anbar province and just last year it was the most dangerous place in Iraq. We'll talk about what success in Iraq looks like right after a quick check of what's in the news, right now.
RICK SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thanks, Tom. Let's bring you up to date. I'm Rick Sanchez. This is what's going on in the green zone with more attacks, car bombs and assault on a Kurdish town. It's a deadly sum of what's going on in the area around Iraq today. Gunmen in an Iraqi Army uniform killed 15 people in a town near the Iranian border. Six explosions rattled Baghdad where police also found 20 bodies dumped in different places.
Also, police in southern Peru are investigating an explosion at an outdoor market last night. Six people were killed in the blast. Officers traced to a bag of dynamite. And there's still some confusion as to whether this was an attack or an accident. I'm Rick Sanchez. Let's take you back to Tom now and THIS WEEK AT WAR.
FOREMAN: Six thousand troops have spent most of the week crisscrossing one of the most dangerous regions of Iraq, draining canals, attacking strong points and rounding up and interrogating suspects. The mission? To find three U.S. soldiers captured by the insurgents. Does the media focus too much on the personal and when does concern for the individual get in the way of vital military objectives? I'm Tom Foreman with THIS WEEK AT WAR. Let's take a look at what our correspondents reported day by day. Monday, the war in Afghanistan will go on despite the death of Mullah Dadullah. This according to a decree by Taliban leader Mullah Omar.
Tuesday, the White House announced that Lieutenant Governor Douglas Lute is now the point man for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Lute was instantly dubbed the war czar. Wednesday, many Senate Republicans in a symbolic vote broke with the president and supported benchmarks for the Iraq war progress. Thursday, Iran and the United States formally announced that they will hold high-level diplomatic talks in Baghdad. Friday, for the second day, Israeli jets pounded Gaza in retaliation for rockets aimed at Israel, all while Palestinian factions battled in the streets. This week's key questions, what does progress look like in Iraq? Nic Robertson has the answer in Anbar province. We'll ask Jamie McIntyre why the Pentagon is blocking websites. And can the U.S. ever really work with Iran? Zain Verjee has been covering the State Department. THIS WEEK AT WAR.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We're within a half mile radius of where Saturday's attack took place. As you can see, the vegetation is so thick in some places here that you can barely see through it and it provides the insurgents perfect cover to carry out their attacks or plant roadside bombs.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FOREMAN: CNN's Arwa Damon reports on Thursday from the location where an insurgent ambush left four U.S. soldiers and their interpreter dead and three missing. This may sound harsh, but combat deaths are something we come to expect in Iraq. Each death, of course, is a tragedy, a blow to families, comrades, all of us really. But it's a fact, something final. When the soldiers is captured, however, there is hope, a terrible hope that they will be found, alive, unharmed and it can drive entire armies to desperate measures. How has it affected the U.S. military in Iraq? Senior international correspondent Nic Robertson has spent the week with U.S. troops in Anbar province. Barbara Starr is at her post in the Pentagon. And with me in Washington is Andrew Exum, a fellow with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and a retired army ranger captain. Andrew, you served with this very unit and with one of the commanders who was involved with this unit. How does this affect you in the field? You've got a mission to do. You're trained, but these are your comrades who have been taken.
ANDREW EXUM, WASHINGTON INST. FOR NEAR EAST POLICY: There are a couple things. First off, in this type of population (INAUDIBLE) counter insurgency, you need all the men you have. In the same way you don't want anything to detract from that mission. But in a very real and practical sense, it helps the motivation these soldiers that are out there knowing that if something happens to them, their comrades, their commanders are going to go to all lengths possible to try to recover them. I served under this commander in the Army ranger regiment. I know that one of the things going through his head right now is the fact that you never leave a fallen comrade to fall into the hands of the enemy. I think that really for these men, for their commanders, I think their overwhelming purpose right now is to get these soldiers back.
FOREMAN: Let's take a look at the area where this happened. Much has been made of this. This is south of Baghdad. We move down toward this area where the folks were hit and an area that has been referred to as a triangle of death because there are so many problems there as troops try to manage things there. Barbara Starr, some of the plan that General Petraeus is forwarding right now involves more small units going further out to try to establish beach heads in the population. Does the Pentagon expect more of this kind of thing and, if so, what are they going to do about it?
BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think the strategy there has some certain military risk. If you put small units out there, by definition, they certainly do become more vulnerable because their backup firepower, their potential rescue forces are not with them. So there is some risk to that. But on the other side of the equation, General Petraeus believes it's vital to get small units out there, to get into these remote towns and villages and have the U.S. military along with their Iraqi security forces, partners, take on more of this security responsibility. More kidnappings, certainly not. They do not expect that. They do not want that. But expect to see more units out there and expect them now after this latest incident to pay a lot of attention to the security of those small units.
FOREMAN: Barbara, we're going to turn to another map here because this has worked. If you move to the west, to al Anbar province. This was a region that a year ago was the most dangerous place there and yet that very philosophy was pursued there. Nic Robertson, we talked about this a couple weeks ago, this apparent change in al Anbar. You're there. You're looking at it now. Has it really worked?
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It does appear to in the town of Ramadi and some of the Euphrates Valley just to the north of Ramadi, it is working. It has worked through a number of mechanisms. It's worked because the Iraqi police have volunteered in large numbers because the tribal sheikhs here have told them to volunteer. That's been very important. Those Iraqi police have then been able to, as the troops have gone on what they describe as kinetic missions to root out al Qaeda. They are then able to put in the police behind them and instead of leaving themselves very thin on the ground in numbers, what we've seen this week is there may be just a group of eight soldiers at a police station, but they have 100 Iraqi policemen with them. So while under normal conditions or conditions last year that would be considered a position of weakness with the Iraqi police. It's a position of strength. That Iraqi police presence in the community is what we're seeing here in Ramadi and the surrounding area actually working. The city as we have seen it is much safer, Tom.
FOREMAN: Let's take a look at a bit of your report earlier on, Nic, where you looked directly at the comparison from what it used to be like.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERTSON: Since Colonel John Charlton arrived in Ramadi in February, the city has gone from being one of the most violent in Iraq to one of the more peaceful.
COL. JOHN CHARLTON, U.S. ARMY: A few months ago this was a very dangerous area. Units that came through would have had to clear the route with engineers, probably would have had armored vehicles. We wouldn't have been standing here like this.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FOREMAN: Andrew, why does this work? Is it just the physical presence of a few soldiers or is this really about building personal bridges and striking deals. What is this?
EXUM: It really depends on where you're focusing on. In the first few years of this conflict, we really focused on the enemy, the terrorists, the insurgents, going after this. In this time of population centered counterinsurgency warfare, what you really are trying to do is focus on the population, not as a military target but trying to protect that population, trying to build up civil institutions and you're going to put a lot of U.S. soldiers, sure, they're going to be at much more risk because they're going to be more exposed to the population. They're going to be more exposed to the enemy, but at the same time you get them out there working with society, building up this Iraqi society and securing the population. That's where you're seeing the success in Ramadi and Fallujah.
FOREMAN: Barbara Starr, one of the questions that's been raised here is that from the beginning, we didn't want to be seen as building up one side, the Shia or the Sunni or the Kurds to defend just themselves for fear that would foment factions in the future. Has the Pentagon moved past that said we have to build up these relationships this way?
STARR: I think that is absolutely the case. If you talk to some of the top commanders, they will tell you that years ago they now feel one of the key mistakes that the U.S. military made and that the Bush administration made is underestimating tribal and ethnic loyalties in Iraq, that that might have been the beginning of going the wrong way. So there is a very great need to build up those relationships and make all the groups, they say, feel like they're participating in the new Iraq.
FOREMAN: Nic very quickly, do you have a sense from the soldiers on the ground there that they're willing to take on this extra risk as they have in Anbar with the hope of success?
ROBERTSON: Absolutely. Definitely see that the soldier can see. Many of them have been here before. The Marines have been here before. They see what it was like before. They see what it's like now. They know that they're finding some success. As a Marine officer told me, yes, he's telling his men, I'm going to have to put some of you in more risk, not all the time, some of the time. But that's what we have to do. It is about searching for connections with the people, not connections with the enemy, removing the people's connections with the enemy, becoming closer to the people. And that's the philosophy here that all of a sudden and perhaps because of a number of reasons the police, the tribes, the fact that the people in al Anbar and Ramadi know what al Qaeda was doing now, know that they weren't there to help drive out an occupying force, all those things have come together. Right now it does seem to be successful, Tom?
FOREMAN: So we may be looking at more risk than we've seen this week but maybe more reward, too. Thanks so much Nic, Barbara and Andrew, for all of you being here.
Still to come on THIS WEEK AT WAR, is the U.S. about to negotiate with Iran or bomb their nuclear facilities? A confusing relationship that could be turning into a crisis.
And straight ahead, three retired generals give us their blunt assessment of the war in Iraq. Plus, what's ahead for a fellow general soon to be the war czar?
But first as we always do, we take time for a THIS WEEK AT WAR remembrance. Private First Class Daniel Courneya was killed this past weekend in an ambush that killed three other U.S. soldiers and an Iraqi translator. He was assigned to the Army's 4th battalion, 31st infantry regiment, 2nd brigade combat team out of Ft. Drum, New York. His mother Wendy recalls the moment when she was told her son was gone.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WENDY THOMPSON, MOTHER: She said, Daniel's dead. And I -- just started screaming, begging her to tell me it was a joke.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FOREMAN: Private First Class Courneya had just graduated from Maple Valley High School in Vermontville, Michigan and he was 19 years old.
FOREMAN: In April 2003 as the U.S. troops were breaking through the last defense line around Baghdad, General Richard Miers (ph), the chairman of the joint chiefs, said criticism of the war plan by ex- generals on television was not helpful. But the war in Iraq has certainly not gone according to plan. So let's go back to the ex- generals for some thoughts. Retired Lt. General William Odom, now a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, retired Brigadier General James "Spider" Marks, a CNN military analyst and the former supreme allied commander retired General George Joulwan who with four stars out-ranks all of us. Generals, let's take a look at this. General Joulwan, when we look at this area, all along we've had this question, can you just talk about Iraq or do you have to talk about the region?
GEN. GEORGE JOULWAN, U.S. ARMY (RET): Of course you need to talk about the region. It's all interrelated. I think if we're going have success in Iraq you have to understand that there are many other plays in the region that are going to come to bear. What happens in Lebanon, in southern Lebanon, in Gaza, all impacts on Iraq. And so I think you need to have a more comprehensive look at the region and we have been reluctant to do that. I think it's time we did so.
FOREMAN: Spider, is that the purview of military folks or is that the purview of politicians?
BRIG. GEN. JAMES MARKS, U.S. ARMY (RET): It's absolutely the purview of military folks and General Joulwan knows from his days in Europe and in southern command that it's more than just the application of military power as well. That component, combatant commander who owns this region has to apply all forms of governance and has to establish policies that allow them to make a difference in the region. So it's more than just military.
FOREMAN: You talk about making a difference, you talk about having success. General Odom, do any of those count in Iraq now?
LT. GEN. WILLIAM ODOM, (RET): They count enormously. I would add another distinctly military dimension to why military officers need to be concerned about this whole region. If you're doing the order of battle, it's not confined to Iraq. Personnel with weapons, support from other things from outside are pouring into this place. They're all involved. To sit down and count the number of insurgents you're up against in Iraq is to keep your eye off the much larger ball of outside support in here. I think one of the problems the administration from the beginning was to fail to understand that they could be up against the entire population in Iraq, plus a lot of sympathetic population on all sides.
FOREMAN: One of the things the administration has raised this week is this idea of a man who some people say is a war czar. Some say he shouldn't be called that because he doesn't have the power, General Lute. Is this a good job to have or a bad job to have?
MARKS: This is a tough job for Doug Lute to take on and it's how that job is defined by the administration. That's what's key. Doug is not going to necessarily be a special envoy, but he's going to be what could be labeled an uber action officer, a lot of responsibilities to get problems fixed.
FOREMAN: Do you need this person?
JOULWAN: I have known Doug Lute for a long time. He has an excellent background to do this. If I could use a word here, it's probably going to be a facilitator more than a czar. He is going to have to try to get this interagency an eventual success in Iraq or Afghanistan is going to depend on not just the military element of power, but bringing together all that we have in terms of civil agencies that can bring everything from electricity and water to governance back to Iraq and to integrate that is going to be important.
FOREMAN: Do you have any faith in that happening?
ODOM: No, I don't because I've spent more than four years in the White House. (INAUDIBLE) His whole future will depend on how the president behaves. If the president decides to speak through him and to listen to him and to more or less sanction whatever he wants to do, he will have a lot of power. As long as he does anything the president's not going to back up, he won't make any progress. And I doubt that he can prevent that from happening very soon if he's going to take any effective remedial actions for our predicament now.
FOREMAN: Let's listen to what General Lute has said in the past. He said about Iraq, you simply have to back off and let the Iraqis step forward. You have to undercut the perception of occupation in Iraq. Can we do that?
JOULWAN: I think it's absolutely mandatory that we do that. I think we've had too much of a U.S. face on this. It's been going on now. We should have done this six months after we entered after the fall of Baghdad. We are now four plus years later. It's about time that the Iraqis step forward. We need to facilitate that.
FOREMAN: What do we do if they won't step forward because that's a complaint many of the troops I've talked to on the ground say, sometimes the Iraqis just won't go.
MARKS: What you see going on right now is an effort to facilitate the Iraqis to step forward specifically. The downside of that is that you're going to increase the U.S. face in order to achieve the security within which the Iraqis can grow their own forces and then step up.
ODOM: Let me point out something that I think is assumed in this discussion that should not be assumed. We're not dealing with Iraqis. We're sitting on top of several sides in multiple civil wars in Iraq. So asking the Iraqis to step up is sort of like asking will the confederates and union leaders step up to a convention that the British have called that we ought to stop fighting after Gettysburg.
FOREMAN: Would you have taken the job the general has taken?
ODOM: It would be dependent on having a conversation with the president. If he wants the war turned around and try to rescue what is a disastrous legacy he's creating for himself, I would have been willing to do it, but only on the terms that I could define what the war aims were and where we're going to try to get to. Without that, if he is going to get the president to do these kinds of things, I've heard nothing in the president's rhetoric that would be compatible with that.
FOREMAN: Do you share that view General Joulwan?
JOULWAN: First of all, I think first you cannot undercut the chain of command on the military side. I think you have a chairman of the joint chiefs of staff. You have combatant commanders in the field. I think what really needs to happen back in Washington is in support of those goals in Iraq. The interagency needs to get their act together. I've been through this in Latin America. I've been through it in Europe and Africa. It's the interagency that needs to be molded together. We could have an absence of war in the military but to win the peace, you need all those other agencies that make peace work. We have not done that and we've got to do it and Doug Lute is very well suited to do that.
FOREMAN: General Joulwan, we appreciate it, General Marks, as well, General Odom, all of you being here. We'll see how it turns out.
coming up next on THIS WEEK AT WAR, the flamboyant and ruthless Taliban commander Mullah Dadullah is dead. What will this mean for the increasingly bloody battle in Afghanistan?
And later, the Pentagon clamps down on sites like myspace and youtube. How will this affect the morale of an online army?
But first, a homecoming in THIS WEEK AT WAR. This had to have been a welcome sight. After six long waits in Kuwait, the Air Force's 437 logistics readiness squad returned to the open arms of friends and family at their base in Charleston, South Carolina. Senior airman Brandon McCabe described the moments leading up to this reunion.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SR. AIRMAN BRANDON McCABE, U.S. AIR FORCE: Just being real anxious, real nervous, can't wait to get off that plane. It's been too long.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FOREMAN: Now that the wait was over, Airman McCabe for the moment as a proud dad watched his son walk for the very first time. Congratulations to all of them there.
FOREMAN: Here is our THIS WEEK AT WAR status report. A down arrow for Iraq as street battles between militias and Iraqi security forces broke out nationwide. Yes, it's good that the Iraqi forces are fighting a bit more on their own, but it would be even better if fewer battles were being fought. In the heavily guarded green zone, mortars keep landing and helmets and body armor are becoming the new business casual, so a down arrow there as well. Yes, there is finally someone in charge of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But Lieutenant General Douglas Lute doesn't appear to have the rank to get everything done. We'll have to wait and see how the new war czar works out.
Relations between Iran and the United States are looking up. There is no love loss on either side, but by agreeing to talks, both sides are indicating at least a willingness to negotiate. And finally, there may be a break in the bloody battle against the Taliban with the death of the man who some say dramatically increased the use of suicide bombings, beheadings and abductions in Afghanistan's seemingly endless war. That man Mullah Dadullah was killed in the southern province of Helman (ph) just last weekend, a ruthless military commander who lost a leg driving the Russians out of Afghanistan. He was also a master of information warfare, producing (INAUDIBLE) videos and flaunting his ties to Osama bin Laden.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MULLAH DADULLAH, TALIBAN COMMANDER (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): We exchange messages with each other to share plans. We also go to the battlefield together. We actually meet very rarely, just for important consultations. It's hard for anyone to meet bin Laden himself now but we know he's still alive.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FOREMAN: But will the loss of just one man really make a difference? Joining me in Washington is Said Jawad, the Afghanistan ambassador to the United States and Seth Jones, professor at Georgetown University and a terrorism expert at the Rand Corporation. First, to you, Mr. Ambassador, does it make a difference that Mullah Dadullah is now gone?
AMB. SAID JAWAD, AFGHANISTAN: Yes, it does because he's not only a ruthless field commander, but also he was a seasoned strategist with strong ties with al Qaeda. This will impact the military operation of the Taliban significantly, particularly in Kandahar (INAUDIBLE) areas.
FOREMAN: Let's take a look at the map to get a sense of where we're talking about. We move from Iraq over Iran to Afghanistan. This is the area in which he died, down here in the south. Seth, there's so much made of the fact that there are so many people who want to fill in and take over the role of these people when they're pushed aside. From your vantage point, does it matter that Dadullah is gone?
SETH JONES, RAND CORPORATION: It matters to some degree, but what's important to understand in the insurgency in Afghanistan is that there are multiple different organizations fighting. (INAUDIBLE) and their networks. So these individuals and these organizations are still very capable of fighting. So is the Taliban. Its leadership structure for the most part is still intact and based out of (INAUDIBLE) Pakistan. So the organization and the variety of organizations are still capable of fighting.
FOREMAN: Mr. Ambassador, there is this notion that we tend to want to see it in our country in terms of a traditional military. You knock off a leader like Mullah Dadullah, you've made a big impact. But what Seth is saying certainly is true to some degree, isn't it?
JAWAD: That's true. What we ought to be fighting in Afghanistan is terrorism as a phenomena, not terrorists as individuals. It's very important to take out the leadership of the terrorists, but at the same time, the whole operation is not military. We have to be able to improve the daily life of the people. You have to be able to make significant progress in the fight against narcotics. But taking a significant link to al Qaeda such as Mullah Dadullah do impact the leadership of the Taliban.
FOREMAN: You mentioned the question of the link to narcotics and the sheer crime that's connected to all of this. Our Nic Robertson filed a report on that. Let's take a quick look at that for a moment.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERTSON: Wherever the Taliban are, narcotic opium poppy growth is increasing. The belief is, the Taliban help fund their fight with the narcotics. The UN predicts a bumper crop this year up on the record breaking 6,000 metric tons grown last year.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FOREMAN: Mr. Ambassador, what is your country doing to control this and can you control it? It is so deeply rooted in the culture of some of these tribal regions.
JAWAD: Not necessarily. There's a lot of factors actually that contribute to the increase of the poppy cultivation. We are emphasizing right now education, which is one aspect of fighting narcotics. The best way to fight narcotics in Afghanistan or anywhere, is to prevent cultivation. If we can prevent cultivation by providing alternative livelihood to the farmers and also enhancing our programs for interdiction and putting in jail some of the big traffickers.
FOREMAN: Seth, is that possible, in your assessment?
JONES: It is possible, but it also needs to go along with stronger institution, state institutions. There are efforts to build a justice system in a drug court that is capable of prosecuting individuals involved in the narcotics trafficking. That is critical. It has been missing. This is why individuals from Afghanistan, traffickers have been extradited to the United States, because the system here has been more capable than in Afghanistan of prosecuting these people. So that's a critical component.
FOREMAN: Can you address any of this without addressing Pakistan? You share a big piece of the border. Many of these people who are causing trouble drift back and forth between the two countries.
Mr. Ambassador, what do you need to see from Pakistan to make this work?
AMB. SAID JAWAD, AFGHANISTAN: We need a better degree of cooperation in Pakistan. Ideological, financial, and military assistance is still available to Taliban -- the Taliban leadership. We appreciate that Taliban -- that Pakistan is doing more and we appreciate the leadership of President Musharraf in that regard.
But as long as there is institution support for extremism in Pakistan, and as long as there's support for Taliban in Pakistan, it will be very difficult for us to succeed in our war against terror in Afghanistan.
FOREMAN: Do they really have a chance right now in Pakistan to do anything about this, Seth?
JONES: I think they do have a chance in Pakistan. The issue has been one traditionally of political will. There have been recent efforts, Mullah Obadullah, for example, that the Pakistanis arrested after Vice President Cheney's visit. So I think this really is more of an issue of will than it has been of Pakistani capability.
FOREMAN: But the Pakistani government is under tremendous pressure from its own people, some of them.
JONES: That's correct. But most of these people are not particularly popular. I mean, most of the -- these Taliban individuals in my view are largely viewed as fugitives. These aren't particularly popular individuals. I don't think this would have a major backlash within Pakistan to capture or kill key leaders of the Taliban.
FOREMAN: And that would certainly help you secure the southern border of your country, presumably.
JAWAD: Absolutely. And also we should keep in mind that Taliban and Talibanization is also a serious threat to Pakistan. We see that uncertainties and insecurities right now in Pakistan. So the threat of extremist of Talibanization is a serious threat for the region. And unless we all cooperate sincerely in the region to face this, we will not succeed.
FOREMAN: And certainly, U.S. troops in the middle of all of that, much concern about them and the other coalition troops.
Thank you, Mr. Ambassador. Thank you, Seth Jones, for both being here today.
Coming up next, a look at the latest headlines.
And then, in World War II, it was mail call. Those words from home that kept soldiers going. Is the Pentagon cutting off the way today's troops connect with their families?
And later, how close is Iran to a nuclear weapon? There are troubling new reports even as the U.S. prepares to sit down with Iranian diplomats in Baghdad. THIS WEEK AT WAR.
RICK SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, I'm Rick Sanchez. We're going to take you back to THIS WEEK AT WAR in just a little bit. First I want to catch you up on some of the stories that we are following right now.
Today Israel targeted the Gaza in another series of air strikes. At least two Palestinians died. The Israelis say that they're responding to a rocket attack by Hamas on s town in southern Israel. At the same time Hamas and Fatah gunmen relinquished positions today. There's hope that a fifth cease-fire will finally end the fighting between the feuding government partners in that part of the world.
Also British Prime Minister Tony Blair says that he has no regrets about deposing Saddam Hussein. In his final official trip to Iraq, the outgoing leader assured Iraqi officials of continued British support after he leaves office next month.
I'm Rick Sanchez right here in Atlanta. Let's take you back to Tom now and THIS WEEK AT WAR.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So I'm just taking this opportunity to say hello and let everybody know back home how I'm doing.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tomorrow will be the only day of the week I get to sleep in. So I'm pretty excited about that, because that's an exciting thing.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is where you say hi.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hi, gang.
(END VIDEO CLIP) FOREMAN: For the GIs in World War II it was V-mail, flimsy copies of letters filled with tiny almost unreadable type, but it was a piece of home, news of births, marriages, even the infamous "Dear John" letters.
Today as you just saw, it is the Internet, military families making it through long deployments with streaming videos of loved ones and blogs of everyday life. Is this lifeline in danger? Joining me to discuss this are Noah Shachtman, editor of wired.com's "Danger Room." He joins us from our Los Angeles bureau. And with me in Washington, our senior military correspondent Jamie McIntyre.
Jamie, lay this out for us. What did the Pentagon do this week about these types of communications?
JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, what they did this week was try to launch some damage control after earlier in the year beginning a policy where they started blocking access to some popular sites like MySpace and YouTube. Because, they say, they have some bandwidth problems with official computers, DOD computers that need to be used for business purposes.
They insist this is not about content. It's just about the amount of bandwidth taken up by what they call recreational sites, particularly ones that have a lot of streaming video.
FOREMAN: Let's take a look at what they did say back in April which is what draws all of this into question. "The Department of the Army personnel will consult with their immediate supervisors prior to publishing or posting information in a public forum. Supervisors will advise personnel to ensure that sensitive and critical information is not to be disclosed."
Noah, that clearly was concern about content, not bandwidth. So do you buy the bandwidth argument now?
NOAH SHACHTMAN, WIRED MAGAZINE: Well, I mean, I think there's something to the bandwidth argument, but I don't think that's the only thing at play here. Several top generals cited operations security, or OPSEC, the fear that a soldier might inadvertently disclose damaging piece of information as one of the reasons to shut down YouTube and MySpace to soldiers.
FOREMAN: When you say there's some validity maybe to the bandwidth question, explain for the layperson out there who hears about it exactly what we're talking about when we say let's control the bandwidth access.
SHACHTMAN: Yes, sure. There's a lot of different kinds of Internet connections that we all have here in the U.S. Some of us have dialup connection which are slower. Some of us have faster ones like DSL. Same thing goes in the military, too. If you're way out in the middle of Iraq, you don't have quite the same Internet connection that you do if you're back in the Pentagon. And so they're concerned about the -- what can be taken up on those very thin pipes way out on the edges. FOREMAN: These are about the amount of information flowing through this limited resource. Well, Jamie, it seems like in a time of war that's a reasonable thing to be concerned about, but certainly the military community, the families have utterly embraced the ability to communicate with each other.
It seems like that's almost a problem here, you are taking away something people got used to.
MCINTYRE: Well, the Pentagon says, first of all, the content and the bandwidth, two different issues. So the question compromising information, that's something that they need to discuss with commanders. But there's no attempt to limit the ability of soldiers to post videos, put blog sites up, send e-mail.
But what they're talking about is limiting access to a certain number of sites that they say take up a lot of bandwidth and they know this because they monitor the amount. And they say they simply need that for military operations.
This, by the way, has pretty much been in effect in the combat zones in Iraq and Afghanistan for a couple of years. What they've done now is extend it to other computers around the world.
But they also have their own military system where people can post videos as well that they say takes up less bandwidth. It's just something that they claim they're trying to manage. But again, they have not explained this well and that has created a lot of confusion.
FOREMAN: Go ahead, Noah, what did you want to say?
SHACHTMAN: Tom, I think there are two issues that are being confused here. One is the blocking of YouTube and MySpace. The other is this Army directive that came out about a month ago which said that no soldier can post blogs or e-mails without checking with the supervisor first.
FOREMAN: OK. Well, clarify that for us.
SHACHTMAN: OK. So one issue I think really does center around bandwidth, which is YouTube, because it's video-driven, does take up a lot of network space. MySpace also has a lot of video and has a lot of audio content, so it takes up a lot of network space.
So there is a bandwidth concern there. In addition, there's also an operations security concern, a content concern which is why the new Army operation security manual specifically says don't post any blogs, don't post -- don't send any e-mail even without checking with your supervisor first.
The Army quickly backed off from that regulation saying -- issuing a press release that said in effect, just kidding. Of course, there's no way we can check every blog post and every e-mail. But there's still a sort of sword hanging over every soldier who wants to post about their experiences in Iraq or who wants to send an e-mail home to their families.
FOREMAN: Jamie, it seems like one of the things that taints this whole conversation is the fact that the war hasn't been going particularly well and there does have an air to this of people saying, maybe this is just about keeping people from criticizing the war from in the war or saying something that might be used publicly in this...
MCINTYRE: And it's a natural suspicion about government particularly when there are any sort of limits placed on communication or speech that there might be some other motive. And I...
FOREMAN: Do you see validity to that?
MCINTYRE: Well, the proof is really going to be in the pudding. I mean, if soldiers are still able to post what they want on their blogs so long as they don't compromise major security, if they are able to freely communicate, that will be the answer to that question.
And what the Pentagon says is, as this policy plays out, they believe that's going to be the case.
FOREMAN: Thank you so much, Jamie McIntyre, and to you, Noah, as well.
In just a moment, the delicate diplomacy between Iran and the United States. Are negotiations the path to peace or just a stalling tactic in route to an Iranian nuke? THIS WEEK AT WAR.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We will stand with others to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons and dominating this region.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FOREMAN: Vice President Dick Cheney warning Iran from the deck of one of the two U.S. aircraft carriers currently in the Persian Gulf. Days later and only 20 miles away, Iranian President Ahmadinejad shot back, saying that any attack would be a mistake and, quote, "if they do such a mistake, an error, attack Iran, then the retaliation of Iran would be severe and they will repent of that."
Tough talk. But the two countries are now set to sit down in just over a week and this time it's not a conversation in the hallway but real negotiations. Joining me in Washington are CNN State Department correspondent Zain Verjee; and Joseph Cirincione, senior vice president for national security at the Center for American Progress.
Let me start with you, Joseph. Is this real progress they're looking for in these talks or is this still the early stages of posturing?
JOSEPH CIRINCIONE, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: Well, we're looking for real progress because we're in trouble in Iraq. We need Iran and the other states of the region to help us stabilize a rapidly-unraveling situation. So it's real about that. Whether it leads to a wider engagement, that remains to be seen.
We're talking about baby steps here. Steps we should have taken over a year ago but it's good we're now taking them.
FOREMAN: OK. That's what we want. Zain, when they meet and what will actually be on the table?
ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: Well, they're going to be meeting on the 28th of May in Baghdad. What's on the table is Iraq only. That's the issue. Nothing else. The focus is how to reduce the sectarian violence, how to break the political deadlock.
The whole idea really sort of came about at the neighbors conference in Egypt a few weeks ago. And both sides sort of met for a quick brief chat in the hallways and that was it. But that's really where it germinated from.
Secretary Rice has said the timing is right. The U.S. has been accusing Iran of really supporting militias and fighters in Iraq and sending over explosive devices that kill U.S. troops. So she's saying the timing is right. But insofar as how much progress can substantively be made really remains to be seen.
FOREMAN: Let's take a look at the map, because I want to make sure everybody has a sense of what we're talking about here and the difference between Iraq and Iran. There's Iran. Big border over here with Iraq. And that has been the concern about whether or they're sending an awful lot of weapons or people back and forth to help out here.
Joseph, why would Iran agree to backing out of Iraq, not letting things get worse there?
CIRINCIONE: Well, two reasons. One is that they don't have an interest in the civil war escalating. They are backing the Shia militia. That's true. They are sending arms to them. But they would like to see a peaceful resolution of this conflict inside Iraq to allow the Shia, the majority in Iraq, to come to power peacefully. That's in Iran's direct interest.
And, two, they don't want to see the country break up into chaos. They're afraid of millions of refugees streaming over the border into Iran, destabilizing their own country. So it's not that they want to help us out, these are their own national security interests that happen to be parallel with ours.
FOREMAN: Zain, does the State Department have any idea then why -- if this is so much in their interest, why they're not doing it already. Instead we're having accusations that they're sending fighters, they're sending weapons, they're sending expertise.
VERJEE: Well, they're really trying to feel the situation out here. I mean, really what has been happening is there's an internal debate within the administration. You have the likes of Vice President Cheney that take a much harder line. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice really pushing the diplomatic track here.
And the question is, you know, are they just really playing good cop-bad cop here or are there real substantive policy differences here? And there are, Vice President Cheney has never really wanted to sit down and have heart-to-hearts and substantive talks with Iran. And the fact that both of them appear to be on the same page on this one is an indication of the level of seriousness here and maybe the feel, as you said earlier, that they really don't have a choice.
FOREMAN: Well, hanging over all of this is this question of nuclear development in Iran. Listen to what Jon Bolton said, the former U.S. ambassador to the U.N., earlier this week: "If we can't get enough other countries to come along with us to do that, then we've got to go with regime change. And if all else fails, if the choices between a nuclear capable Iran and a use of force, then I think we have to look at the use of force."
That's what he's saying about whether or not you can get Iran to shut down their nuclear program. Does that help at all or does that hurt to have that kind of talk?
CIRINCIONE: Well, there's a reason John Bolton is the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. I mean, this is a distinct minority point of view, still represented by neoconservatives outside the administration primarily, but it's not the majority view, not by a long shot.
In fact, we had a report this week that Admiral Fallon, now the commander of all U.S. forces in Central Command actually had to go and rebuff a request by the administration to send a third carrier battle group into the Persian Gulf.
He said, we're not going to go to war with Iran, not on my watch. So talk like this doesn't help at all.
FOREMAN: Very quickly then, Zain, though, how real, though, is the concern that through all of this delay that Iran is still building up its nuclear capability, that that's still the trump card in all of this?
VERJEE: Well, the concern is very real but the questions and debate as to how far they are is really the issue...
FOREMAN: And what to do about them.
VERJEE: Right, exactly. And as far as these talks are concerned, a lot of people are saying that really if you want to get anywhere with Iran, you've got to talk about the nuclear issue if you want it to be meaningful.
FOREMAN: Off the table for now though, and we'll see in the future?
VERJEE: Yes. It is off the table for now in theory.
FOREMAN: All right. Thank you so much. Zain, Joseph, we appreciate your time.
When we come back, a town turns out to say good-bye to a hometown hero. THIS WEEK AT WAR.
FOREMAN: This week the people of beautiful Pocatello, Idaho, came together to support the family of Army Sergeant Blake Stephens. Stephens was killed earlier this month when an IED detonated near his vehicle in Salman Pak, Iraq, killing him and another soldier. Stephens' parents said they were touched by the community's response.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KATHLEEN STEPHENS, MOTHER: I've appreciated so much the love that has been shown to us and to Blake. And he'll see this. He'll be around for this week, I'm sure. And he'll be able to feel so good about moving on.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FOREMAN: Sergeant Stephens spent six years in the Idaho National Guard before enlisting in the Army. He was 25 years old.
And here's a look at some of the others who fell in THIS WEEK AT WAR.
FOREMAN: We learned late this week of two more journalists who were killed in Iraq, both working for ABC News. A spokesperson at ABC says they were returning to their office in Baghdad when their car was attacked. They were Iraqis. And according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, of the now more than 100 journalists killed in this war, the vast number have been Iraqi.
We in this industry and indeed we in this country owe these brave young men and women a great debt because their knowledge of their nation and the courage that enables them to go and report where Westerners simply cannot go have made undeniably the eyes and ears for so many of us in this difficult war. Our thoughts are with their families.
Turning now to some of the stories that will be following in the next week at war. On Monday, in Crawford, Texas, President Bush will host a NATO secretary. They will discuss NATO's military role in Afghanistan, and Kosovo will be on the top of the agenda.
Wednesday, the International Atomic Energy Agency will release its new report on Iran's nuclear program. The report is expected to be negative and lead to a third round of U.N. sanctions. Also on Wednesday, Amnesty International's annual survey of human rights violations comes out. And we can expect controversy over their reports on Iraq and other U.S. allies.
Thanks so much for joining us on THIS WEEK AT WAR. I'm Tom Foreman. Straight ahead, a check of the headlines. Then, "CNN SPECIAL INVESTIGATIONS UNIT," "Danger: Poisoned Food."
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